Civil Society in the Soviet Union?
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Civil Society in the Soviet Union? book
In recent years there has been a great deal of discussion of the condition of civil society in postcommunist Russia (Evans 2002).1 It must be noted, however, that there are some large gaps in our understanding of the historical background of civil society in contemporary Russia. There has been a boom in scholarly works describing the gradual development of civil society in late tsarist Russia (Clowes, Kassow, and West 1991; Conroy 1998), but there has been no corresponding expansion of studies by Western scholars dealing with the possible precursors of civil society under the Soviet regime. The reasons for the neglect of that subject may be related to the two contending views of the character of social organizations in the Soviet system that are commonly found in the scholarly literature. The first view is that the Soviet state’s mechanisms of control were pervasive, so that there were no independent social organizations (Biddulph 1975, 102; Pavlova 1998, 114), which for some implied that Soviet citizens were completely subjected to direction by the political regime. The second view is that by the late 1980s, an embryonic civil society had taken shape in the Soviet Union (White 1999, 41),2 which for some observers of that period raised the hope that a full-fledged civil society would soon become dominant over the Soviet state (Starr 1988, 35; Lewin 1991, 80, 157). The analysis offered in this chapter takes issue with both these conclusions, or at least with the more simplistic versions of each one.